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The Doors' Keyboard Counterpoint Goes Silent: Remembering Ray Manzarek

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The Doors' Keyboard Counterpoint Goes Silent: Remembering Ray Manzarek

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The Doors' Keyboard Counterpoint Goes Silent: Remembering Ray Manzarek

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You know, some music is dated; some music is timeless. And some is both; it's clearly of a particular time and place, yet attracts the ears of later generations. Such is the music of The Doors, which I knew growing up even though I had no memory at all of the 1960s.

The lead singer, and co-founder, was Jim Morrison. His co-founder, Ray Manzarek, was nearly as famous for his keyboard playing. And Manzarek has died, at age 74. NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Raymond Daniel Manzarek was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago. And he brought that city's sound with him to the Southern California beaches, where The Doors were born.


RAY MANZAREK: We were aware of Muddy Waters. We were aware of Howlin' Wolf and John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

DEL BARCO: The Doors added beat poetry and psychedelic drugs to the mix, as Manzarek told NPR in 2000.


MANZAREK: As the sun is setting into the Pacific Ocean at the end, the terminus of Western civilization. Western civilization ends here in California, at Venice Beach. So we stood there, inventing a new world on psychedelics.


THE DOORS: (Singing) You know the day destroys the night. Night divides the day. Tried to run, tried to hide. Break on through to the other side...

JOHN DENSMORE: He saw, in Jim, the magic before anyone.

DEL BARCO: Doors drummer John Densmore says Ray Manzarek recognized Jim Morrison's talent for words, but he also figured out how to add something else to the band.

DENSMORE: We didn't have a bass player, which is really against the rock 'n' roll rules. But we found this keyboard bass and so Ray's left hand, and my drumming, cooking up the groove for Robbie and Jim to float on top of.

DEL BARCO: That, too, came from Manzarek Chicago roots, as he demonstrated for WHYY's FRESH AIR in 2000.


MANZAREK: I applied my boogie-woogie background...


MANZAREK: That was the whole thing. And you just keep that left hand going ...


MANZAREK: ...and the right hand does the improvisations.


MANZAREK: So I had done that over and over and over, as a kid. So I had a Fender keyboard bass sitting on top of a Vox Continental organ. And the Vox Continental organ was what I played with my right hand, and the Fender keyboard bass with my left hand.


THE DOORS: (Singing) Love me one time, could not speak...

DEL BARCO: But it was Manzarek's interpretation of Bach that launched The Doors' first hit.


DENSMORE: Ray's keyboard licks will go down in history as the most memorable hooks you could never forget.


THE DOORS: (Singing) You know that it would be untrue. You know that I would be a liar...

DEL BARCO: "Light My Fire" went to the top of the charts in 1967. Four years later, Jim Morrison was dead. Manzarek, Densmore and guitarist Robbie Krieger tried to continue but eventually, called it quits. Manzarek made solo albums and produced for other groups, including the seminal L.A. punk band X.

He wrote a critically acclaimed book about his years with The Doors, and two novels. But he maintained his identity was formed in Los Angeles with his three band mates, nearly a half a century ago.


MANZAREK: Once you open the doors of perception, the doors of perception are cleansed. They stay cleansed; they stay open. And you see life as an infinite voyage of joy and adventure, and strangeness and darkness, and wildness and craziness, and softness and beauty.

DEL BARCO: And Ray Manzarek leaves all of that behind, in his music.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News.


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